The White House received a new classified intelligence report about the origins of the coronavirus on Tuesday, but it did not come to a solid conclusion as to whether the virus originated in animals before transferring to humans or was released from a lab, according to news reports.
Biden had asked the intelligence community in May to step up efforts to investigate COVID-19’s origins after officials could not agree on a conclusion. According to The Washington Post, intelligence officials will seek to release portions of the report publicly.
The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials said part of the reason for inconclusiveness was a lack of information about China.
“It was a deep dive, but you can only go so deep as the situation allows,” a U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal. “If China’s not going to give access to certain data sets, you’re never really going to know.”
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The World Health Organization and China concluded back in March that it was “extremely unlikely” the virus escaped from a lab, a theory that emerged from a series of sources with circumstantial evidence, including repeated assertions from former President Donald Trump and his allies, without citing specific evidence.
Further speculation was based on the proximity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the wildlife market where the first cases of the coronavirus were traced in Wuhan, and China’s initial unwillingness to share information about the virus.
Early theories were that the virus is zoonotic, and jumped directly from animals to humans because that is how over 70% of new human infections began in recent decades. One possible explanation is that the virus jumped from bats to humans, or first to another animal before spreading to humans.
An intelligence report in May found that three researchers at a lab in Wuhan, China, the city where the coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated, fell sick in the fall of 2019. They sought treatment for flu-like symptoms at a hospital and their illnesses predated the first reporting of illnesses from China. The report fueled speculation about whether the Wuhan Institute of Virology employees could have been infected with the novel coronavirus, though not enough evidence has emerged one way or another.
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Scientists have said that the lack of information has fed conspiracy theories, and partisan back-and-forth over the issue and the U.S.’ support for the World Health Organization has turned the source of the virus into a political flashpoint.
Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul have fixated on whether the National Institutes of Health can be implicated in funding “gain-of-function” research, which includes increasing the transmissibility of viruses, at the Wuhan lab. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has vehemently denied this claim.
The inconclusiveness has also added strain to an already tense relationship between the U.S. and China, with officials imploring the Chinese government to be more forthcoming with information.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Jordan Mendoza